“For over a thousand generations, licensed video games were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times… before the Empire.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
Okay… I took a small amount of creative liberties with that quote. Also, as much as I hate to admit this, Obi-Wan Kenobi is a fictional character. But that doesn’t negate the TRUTH…. there was a time in the video game industry that games based on commercial licenses were a POSITIVE THING and supported the growth of gaming during its’ formative years. Sure, there were occasional abominations such as E.T on the Atari or the infamous mess that was Superman 64, but if we are being honest with ourselves, licensed video games weren’t ALWAYS the mindless, worthless drivel that they tend to represent now. Batman on the original NES completely captured the tone and style of Tim Burton’s masterpiece, GoldenEye 007 was the defining shooter of its’ generation, Chronicles of Riddick vastly improved on the source material it was based on, and the recent Spider-Man titles have to be considered some of the top games created during the PS4 console generation. And now we have Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, a game coming this fall that is proudly wearing it’s Super Smash Brothers influence on it’s sleeve. It’s basically Smash for the Nickelodeon generation, with everyone from SpongeBob and Patrick to the Ninja Turtles jumping in for some fast-paced brawling action… this could be an amazing interpretation of a beloved classic, or it could be a train-wreck the likes of which we haven’t seen since Garfield Kart Racing. Yes… that was a game that was made. YES, recently… on XB1 and PS4 and Switch. NO… don’t go look. Don’t validate its’ existence… they might make another one.
Over the years, companies started taking existing game templates, slapped some familiar characters from a TV show or movie on the cover, and called it a new game. These soulless and typically under-developed games came dressed like a different (and much more popular) game that we had enjoyed, mimicking everything from Mario Kart and Mario Party to simple “beat-em ups” that were little more than a Frankenstein monster, mashing elements of ten popular games into one horrific beast. Licensed games definitely earned their bad reputation, and each time a poorly executed version of a beloved franchise was shoveled onto the shelves a little piece of our collective gaming souls died. I can’t speak to the intentions of the developers of these broken and lifeless carcasses, but I think we can all agree that each of these releases were a poor reflection of the capabilities that exist within interactive media… and they may have actually turned people off from the entire world of video games as a result.
After all of the epically bad “swing and a miss” games that have been generated under the licensed game umbrella, our trust with these types of games has been broken. But if we aren’t careful, sticking our nose in the air and walking past Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl may be a big mistake… regardless of our level of interest in these specific characters, the gameplay demonstrated so far may not only belong on the same stage as our beloved Super Smash Brothers series, it may actually IMPROVE on some of the areas of opportunity that reside in this classic franchise. True, we have been burned before by games that looked, smelled, and acted a lot like this one does. And here is where the BIG question really hits home… does the path to redemption truly exist, not just for these licensed video games, but in our personal lives as well? Do we truly allow people who have failed an opportunity to repent, return, and try again? Or do we give lip-service to the idea of restoration, but then downgrade such individuals to second-class citizens in our minds and society, welcoming them with our well-meaning words but rejecting them from TRUE acceptance and fellowship as equal members of the body of Christ?
The Bible is full of redemption stories, but there is one that permeates the entirety of the Old and New Testament… the love of God for the people of Israel, and by extension all of us “Gentiles” who have chosen to become part of His family (Romans 11:1-27). Every book of the Old Testament chronicles the constant rising and falling of the Lord’s chosen people, the very definition of a toxic relationship between a Creator that loved too much and a people who seemed bent on disappointing Him. And in the book of Ezekiel we see one of the most dramatic and graphic examples of how the Lord views redemption… even when hope seems completely gone, the bones are completely dry, and the story has seemingly ended.
Ezekiel 37:1-6 The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”
This may be the first time you have read this or the thousandth… either way, you may have skipped past the fact that these aren’t just corpses… these are dry bones. VERY dry bones. As in, these have been gone for a WHILE. Sure, we have seen plenty of stories about people being brought back from the dead after hours or even days… but these are beyond the point of someone praying for them to come back. They are GONE… hopeless, empty, unrecognizable skeletons that bear no resemblance to what they once were. And the Lord is asking a simple yet profound question… can these dead, dry, hopeless bones return to life?
Ezekiel 37:7-8 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.
God, in a demonstration of His infinite power, took every single one of these bones, put them together with their corresponding body parts, grew muscle and flesh over them, and miraculously brought them back to a representation of life. But they weren’t ACTUALLY alive… not yet. And this is often where we get our disconnect in life as well… in our current society, everyone makes mistakes, sins, and falls. Sadly, many souls remain right where they have fallen and slowly decompose into a pile of dry bones, a hollow reminder of what they once were. But there are some who decide to rise up after they have fallen and through a tremendous amount of personal effort, drive, and commitment pull themselves back together. But they are lacking one more critical thing…
Ezekiel 37:9-14 Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” ’ ” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’ ”
It is the Spirit of the Lord breathed into us that returns us from death into life… despite all of the multiple failings of the people of Israel, they were not hopeless or irretrievably broken. They were one breath of the Lord away from returning to where they belonged… not as second-class citizens or on some form of spiritual probation, but as a people RESTORED to their land and right-standing with the Lord. Now get ready and buckle up, because we are heading into the deep waters now…
As a society, as a church, and as individuals we have a decision to make each and every day. Do we extend the full restoration of Christ and a non-judgmental hand of fellowship to those who have sinned, fallen, and returned to the Lord, or do we relegate them to the “licensed game bin”… allowing them to exist on the same shelf, but as lesser, inferior versions simply because they have produced poorly in the past? Most importantly, who made us the decision makers or gate-keepers for wayward souls who are seeking a path to restoration? Whether they have failed seven times or seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22), those who are reaching out for forgiveness and mercy have the SAME access to the Father as we do… they are our brothers and sisters, no matter how uncomfortable that may make any of us. As Paul so eloquently put it in 1 Corinthians, such were some of us… and I will be the first to raise my hand and say I was a member of the “dry bone society” as well.
1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
If we are being honest… maybe some of the reasons we get uncomfortable is because these fallen souls remind us a little too much of who we once were, what we still privately struggle with, or because we are still fighting a battle in our own minds to forgive ourselves of the sins we once committed, making it hard to offer a hand of restoration that we still feel unworthy of possessing. So let’s look at one more passage… when Peter was commanded by the Lord to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. In the context of this verse, Peter is having a dream in which he was told by a voice to eat foods that were ritualistically unclean for a Jewish person to eat, with the Lord using this as an example to Peter that the Gentiles who were considered “unclean” were also part of God’s plan of salvation and designed for integration into the family of Christ. But within this mission statement to Peter is a very specific statement that transcends the inclusion of Gentiles into Peter’s ministry… the same principle at work in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the woman caught in the act of adultery who was thrown at Christ’s feet (John 8:1-11), or the crooked tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)…
Acts 10:15 But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.”
It is not for us to apply a label, a restriction, an asterisk, or any additional obstacles to restoration on someone who has come seeking the Lord in repentance… no matter HOW far they have fallen. There is NO place for “cancel culture” in the body of Christ… to do so is to place ourselves in the position of the Almighty Himself. When the Spirit of God enters into the previously lifeless bones of ANY of us, we are brought back to life COMPLETELY and restored as His child… there are no second-class children. We all share ONE table… a table we are ALL unworthy to sit at. Israel sinned against the Lord pretty much EVERY time they got a chance to… and He restored them EVERY time that they turned to Him in repentance, breathing His life into their nostrils and placing them back on the path.
Yes, I have been betrayed and burned by licensed video games that looked fun on the outside and promised to be better, but held only bitterness and pain on the inside. But closing myself off to Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl simply because games like this or from this license have previously hurt me will only cause me to miss out on what looks like a really fun title… a game that may not only exceed my fairly low expectations, but might bring NEW things to the table that are better than what I had previously settled for in this particular genre. And if I am being honest, even my FAVORITE game franchises have found ways to betray me in the past… I just let them slide because I am biased towards them. I have chosen to ignore the fact that Metal Gear Survive is unmitigated trash, because the rest of the Metal Gear series is spectacular. I have forgiven Bioware for Mass Effect Andromeda, because the original Mass Effect trilogy was fantastic. I know HOW to forgive and move forward… I just do it when it is most convenient for me, not in a manner that is truly equitable.
If we have chosen to walk the path of Christ, this is “The Way”… the path of allowing those who have betrayed us (Peter), doubted us (Thomas), persecuted us (Paul), or even crucified us (pretty much everyone else) to walk the path alongside us as a FAMILY. We are ALL made of “dry bones”… but when the Spirit of God breathes into us, we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The burden of sin that our brothers and sisters previously carried was heavy enough… why would we press our thumb down on it and make it harder? I am going to give Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl a try… it may be better than Super Smash Brothers, and it may not be. But I am not going to allow the irredeemably broken licensed games I have played in the past, even ones that were representing the Nickelodeon franchise, prevent me from trying what may be a new favorite title. Could it burn me again? Of course it could. That is the inherent risk with ANY game that I play. The people of Israel failed the Lord on countless occasions… and He offered them redemption and restoration every single time. And similarly, people are going to fail us… our favorite people will fail us, our biological family will fail us, our parents will fail us, our children will fail us, and we will fail ourselves. But we MUST move forward with ourselves and each other, putting our failures in the past and allowing these dry bones to not only live, but to be RESTORED fully with grace and love. Let’s be known as the safe place for EVERY broken heart, wayward soul, and prodigal child returning to the Father… Christ fully purchased reconciliation for each of us with His priceless blood. And the price He paid was enough to cancel EVERY debt and leave them in the past… where they belong.
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